Home World Chicago Bulls’ Billy Donovan brushes off Kentucky job speculation

Chicago Bulls’ Billy Donovan brushes off Kentucky job speculation


Within hours of the bombshell news that John Calipari is leaving the Kentucky men’s basketball program for Arkansas, the rumor mill had already churned out a would-be top contender for the vacant position: Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan.

But that came as news to Donovan, who said he hasn’t been contacted by or spoken to anyone within the Kentucky program about the head coach position.

“My total commitment and focus is here to this team and to this group,” Donovan said ahead of Tuesday’s game against the New York Knicks. “I think with what we’ve been through and the way we started, I give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there and battling through some of the things that we had to battle through and I’m with them on that. A lot of this stuff turns out to be speculation.”

The connection to Kentucky is logical. Donovan spent five years with the program as an assistant coach under Rick Pitino, during which time the Wildcats took two trips to the Final Four and won three SEC championships. He spoke fondly of his time in Lexington — where two of his children were born — and praised the program, adding that he was “flattered” to be connected to the opening.

But Donovan brushed off speculation that Kentucky is already fielding offers, saying he didn’t believe the Kentucky athletic director had even picked up the phone.

“Has John even left yet?” Donovan quipped with a laugh. Calipari had confirmed his departure earlier in the day by releasing a social media post thanking the Kentucky fan base and community.

Kentucky would have good reason to make a play for Donovan. He is one of only eight men’s basketball coaches to record consecutive NCAA championships, finishing a 19-season tenure at Florida with a 467-186 record while recruiting and producing top talent like Joakim Noah, Udonis Haslem and Al Horford. And although his success has been slightly muted in the NBA, Donovan still holds the same clout in the NCAA nine years after heading to the pros.

But the concept of leaving the Bulls — or the NBA as a whole — is a less convincing prospect for Donovan, who has been candid throughout the years about the ways college basketball has changed since he left Florida in 2015.

Players are restricted to 20 hours of practice per week, a number that Donovan exceeded with ease in his early years as a coach. The transfer portal and the legalization of NIL deals have dramatically shifted the landscape of recruiting and retaining top talent. And although he emphasized his support of players being paid through NIL money, Donovan said he’s wary of the frequency with which players are empowered to transfer in the modern era of NCAA sports.

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